Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured
By B.K.S. Iyengar from Light on Life
The whole educative thrust of yoga is to make things go right in our lives. But we all know that an apple that appears perfect on the outside can have been eaten away by an invisible worm on the inside.
Yoga is not about appearances. It is about finding and eradicating the worm, so that the whole apple, from skin inward, can be perfect and a healthy one. That is why yoga, and indeed all spiritual philosophies, seems to harp on the negative -- grasping desires, weaknesses, faults, and imbalances. They are trying to catch the worm before it devours and corrupts the whole apple from inside. This is not a struggle between good and evil. It is natural for worms to eat apples.
In yoga we simply do not want to be the apple that is rotted from inside. So yoga insists on examining, scientifically and without value judgment, what can go wrong, and why, and how to stop it. It is organic farming of the self -- for the Self.
To reach and penetrate as far as the fourth sheath is a considerable achievement, but I would be doing the reader a disservice if I did not point out that considerable achievements also bring in their wake considerable dangers. An obvious one is pride -- not satisfaction in a job well done -- but a sense of superiority and difference, of distinction and eminence. It is an obsession in our modern society to focus on appearance, presentation, and packaging. We do not ask ourselves, "How am I really?" but "How do I look, how do others see me?" It is not a question of, "What am I saying?" but, "How do I sound?"
There are those, for example, who perform polished, well-presented, highly attractive yogasana. They are pleased with this, and with themselves, and are perhaps financially well rewarded for this outward excellence. When I was young, struggling to earn a living, to raise yoga in public esteem, to exemplify in my visible body the art and aesthetic beauty of yoga, I was always seeking to present asana in the best possible way, symmetrically, precisely, and in stimulating, coherent sequences. I was, when occasion demanded, a performer and an artist. This was my service to the art of yoga. But in my own personal practice I did not have this type of idea. I was concerned only to explore, to learn, to challenge, and to transform inwardly. Above all to penetrate. Yoga is an interior penetration leading to integration of being, senses, breath, mind, intelligence, consciousness, and Self. It is definitely an inward journey, evolution through involution, toward the Soul, which in its turn desires to emerge and embrace you in its glory.
You need a good teacher as guide so you will not hurt your body, overstretch, wrench, or nip the inner fibres, tendons, ligaments, mind, and emotions. This is yoga inadequately or wrongly practiced. I know; I have done it. But when yoga is only outward facing, exhibitative, and self-gratifying, it is not yoga at all. Such an attitude will deface and deform even the character you started out with. In class when pride rises or its complement, insecurity, as you look around at others, recognise it for what it is and send it on its way.
It is certain that there is much pleasure and satisfaction to be gleaned from life. Patanjali said the correct fulfilment of pleasure is an essential component not only of life but of liberation. But Patanjali also warned that wrong interaction with nature (where the afflictions or klesa still rule us) can bring about our confusion and self-destruction. The pursuit of pleasure through appearances, which I connect here to superficiality of intent, is quite simply the wrong way to go about things. To pursue pleasure is to pursue pain in equal measure. When appearance is more important to us than content, we can be sure we have taken the wrong turning.
The achievements of intelligence therefore also have their pitfalls, even more difficult to identify than the lure of the senses. We are only too ready to admit, "Oh, I can never resist chocolate." But how many of us would admit that we would willingly stab any colleague in the back in order to gain a promotion? We shy away from such self-knowledge as we instinctively feel that its ugliness lies closer to the Soul.
Most of us, at least in maturity, with or without yoga, fall into a dutiful routine, a comprehensive conduct of trying to "be good" and fearing the consequences if we are not. This is neither solution nor resolution, but it is a livable cease fire, or decency by dint of moderation. Controlling our desires is a continual pruning process, rather than a Damascene conversion.